Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

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The Family Book

After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

Stella Brings the Family

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

One Family

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

What Makes a Baby

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

Hush a Bye, Baby (New Books for Newborns)

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.

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Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.

A few of my favourite Avery-isms right now

The way she exclaims, “woooow!” at things that impress her. Example, our new neighbours put up a fence dividing our back yards over a weekend we were away, and when Avery walked into the back yard to see it for the first time, she said, “wooow!” with such a sense of awe and wonder. Seeing me cleaned up and dressed up also gets a “wooow”, which says something about how I usually look…

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How she kisses my “ouchies” so lovingly. Since we started “kissing it better,” she finds any little red mark on our skin, says “ouchie,” and kisses it better. This started in earnest with hand-foot-and-mouth disease when we all had a lot of ouchies 😣

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Just started saying “love you” in response to us saying “I love you.” But she’s also in a repeat-after-me phase where she repeats pretty much everything we say, so she might not know the meaning of it yet.

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Although she knows the word “outside,” she still usually asks to go outside by saying “boot, mit, hat?” Even though we’re in sandal (and definitely not mitten) season right now… She does the gestures of putting on boots and mits and a hat, too. It’s cute.

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She tickles us. She wiggles her fingers all over our bellies and laughs and laughs at the hilarity. I hate being tickled – I freak out and instinctively will punch or kick someone who is tickling me. But when Avery does it, somehow it’s cute.

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Naming her toys. I’ve been waiting for the day when Avery would be into playing with animal figurines. That was always my fave as a kid. Not only is she super into her animal figurines now, but she named one of them, ALL BY HERSELF! She has been really into horses lately (her grandma has horses), so I surprised her at daycare pickup one day with a plastic horse figurine (Tractor Supply Store has great ones), and as she accepted it she said “wow, horsie! Umm, Apple!” Apple is the name of one of the horse’s at her grandma’s place. The toy didn’t really look like the real Apple, but she decided that her toy horse needed the name. When you ask what her horse’s name is, she says Apple.

How I’m surviving grad school as a parent: admitting my privilege

There may be readers here who are student-parents, or who are thinking of going back to school after having a kid. I want to be transparent with my experience, and how it has been so doable for me. There are actually a few ways that my privilege is helping me succeed in a usually adverse, immensely challenging combination of jobs, including having a steadily employed spouse who pays a lot of our expenses, affordable rent in a nice house thanks to my mother, extremely affordable part time daycare, and more. Here I’m going to focus on the story of my PhD advisor, and how having support for your family priorities from the person who decides if you graduate or not can make or break you as a student.

My PhD advisor is the bomb diggity. He says that because he was never a parent, he takes out his “mothering instinct” (as he calls it) on his grad students. He treats his students with compassion, patience, encouragement, genuine belief in us, and he throws research money at us to make our work as efficient and impactful as possible. And right now he is on the cusp of retirement and only has two grad students – me and one of my best friends. His partner is an amazing, kind, supportive, and intelligent woman who also happens to be on my advisory committee. My school-world is as perfect as it possibly could be.

I’ve been working with my PhD advisor for 7 years. He was my undergraduate thesis advisor and my Master’s advisor. He wasn’t taking on new students anymore when he first started working with me – he had transitioned from a faculty position to become Vice President of Academics at the university, and didn’t have time to advise students. But as a 3rd year undergraduate planning my 4th year research project, I marched into his executive office with confidence and all the charm I could muster, and convinced him to take me on as a supervisee. He saw something in me – he says now he knew we would work seemlessly together and that I would be low maintenance, and he made a personal committment to see me through to the end of my studies, no matter how long that might take (he probably never imagined it would be 7 years and counting!).

He is the reason I was accepted into grad school. Admittance to the program required a 90 GPA. I had an 80 GPA. But the most important factor to admittance was having an advisor lined up and willing to pay at least some of your stipend. He backed me up and I was admitted to a program I still feel I wasn’t good enough for.

My advisor and his partner attended my wedding. He visited my home after my daughter was born and gifted her an adorable boutique outfit (and me a fancy bottle of wine). He frequently held advisory meetings over lunch at a restaurant so he could treat his students to a meal (and a drink, if they wanted). When I defended my Master’s thesis, he took me and all of my support people who attended out for a beer.

When my peers have complained about having to pay their research participants compensation out of their own pockets, I know I am privileged to have an advisor who pays all of my research expenses, including my tuition for the past couple of years. When my peers complain about having to pay their own way to conferences, I feel guilty that my advisor begs to send me someplace luxurious like Paris or Lisben for conferences (if only I liked to travel).

I really don’t know how I would have survived grad school without him as my advisor. I probably wouldn’t have completed it.

That’s not to say that you can’t do parenting and studenting successfully at the same time, but it may not be as easy as I make it look as I blog about spending time with my toddler, gardening, and generally not stressing about school.

First period in almost 2-1/2 years

I’ve been expecting this. We night weaned a month ago, and I’d heard that breastfeeding at night keeps your prolactin levels up which can keep your period away. About 2 weeks into night weaning I started getting signs that I was ovulating – those old familiar signs that I used to get so excited over when we were TTC. And then today I got the first period I’ve had since my daughter was conceived in December 2015.

First, let me say how thankful I am that it was anticlimactic. I was worried that I’d have a horrible first period, with mammoth cramps and a monsoon-like flow. Instead, it came conveniently when I had my morning pee, and I didn’t feel a thing. I’ve always had really severe PMS cramping, likely because I had mild PCOS and cysts on my ovaries. I had some periods that I now know were really close to the pain of advanced labour contractions. So if this first post-partum period is an accurate representation of my future of periods, I’m a happy camper.

Despite the drama-free resurgence, I’m still feeling a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a symbolic end to the most meaningful time in my life so far – growing and nourishing my daughter as my body’s primary function in life (note: to each her own when it comes to what brings your life meaning). But I know that as she grows I’ll find more of my life’s meaning and purpose in raising her to be a well adjusted adult.

Getting my period also signifies a new beginning. I can now conceive again. We’re not trying for baby #2 for a long time still, but it feels different to be a fertile woman again. Being on my period is connecting me to the person I was before having a baby. I feel like I’m reclaiming my body as mine; it’s been primarily my baby’s for so long.

It’s a mixed bag of emotions, for sure. And even though I didn’t really experience any PMS this time, I still ate an entire chocolate Easter bunny because I always used to self-medicate my PMS with chocolate and wine. Old habits die hard.